After a few too many Caribbean beach vacations spent trudging around the festering seaweed from Brazil heaped on the once-white beaches, last winter I decided to join the throngs of other dispirited sargassum refugees on a direct flight from Toronto to Puerto Vallarta to see what’s what on the Pacific coast.
Puerto Vallarta proper is awash in new tourism dollars. Swanky restaurants like Café des Artistes and posh tequila bars like the Iguana at Casa Kimberly are taking over. But if something upscale is what you seek—or just a great round of golf—there is no better choice than to head north for Punta Mita and its 1,500 acres of well-groomed wilderness, twin golf courses and resorts (one a Four Seasons, the other, a St. Regis) and enough country-club-style beachfront bars scattered about to run your golf cart battery dry on an intramural bar hop. After a few nights there, my friend and I were craving the more familiar Mexico beyond the resort walls. So, we headed north for Sayulita and a couple of nights at a modest beachfront establishment called Hotel Peix, where we spent our days reading on the beach and, from early evening, wandering happily between roadside bars like El Barrilito and eating chiles rellenos at Emiliano’s Cocina Mexicana.
Sayulita is a charming town. So are the string of magically unspoiled fishing villages we passed through as we headed south again, down the coast through Punta Mita, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Bucerías and Nuevo Vallarta, each equipped with modest boutique hotels and convivial beachfront restaurants. Finally, 25 km south of Puerto Vallarta we arrived at the mini-port of Boca de Tomatlán and set off for Yelapa and its hidden gem, a clifftop jungle hotel called Verana. The walk up is long and steep. Luggage follows slowly— by mule. At last you arrive on an expansive terrace with the most spectacular view of the Bay of Banderas.
The hotel has just the right mix of stylish luxury and laid-back, eco-friendly hippie vibes. There are 10 bungalows and rooms, each beautifully decorated in chic Mexican modern, with most completely open on one side to max out on the glorious views. Spend the day by the pool with a cocktail and watch the jungle birds come and go. For active types there’s yoga at the yoga palapa, cooking classes, whale-watching, snorkelling, kayaking or hiking. A trek to tiny Yelapa village is a worthwhile adventure. More relaxing still is a visit to the tranquil Verana spa for an unconditionally relaxing experience (all of the treatments use organic ingredients and begin with a foot bath and a custom blend of tea). Spend sunset on the terrace with a margarita, then settle in for a dinner that makes the most of great local product—and be grateful for an unspoiled slice of seaweed-free Mexico.
— Nicky Sullivan